New research could speed up energy efficiency efforts in cities

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As cities throughout the world strive to reduce their carbon emissions and become more energy efficient, new research shows that the most effective way to do this is by retrofitting certain buildings so that they perform better.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, new findings discovered by experts at MIT and similar institutions highlight the huge impact of making buildings more energy efficient. The results are due to be published in the Interface journal in the UK.

The report found, for example, that 44% of all energy used in US buildings is spent on heating and cooling, contributing one fifth (20%) of the nation's CO2 emissions. But as well as making standard buildings more energy efficient, the real potential lies in making retrofits in the least efficient buildings.

However, calculating which buildings need the most improvement is not as easy as it sounds; there are supposedly 82 different parameters that can impact a building's thermal efficiency, but the research team managed to narrow this down to eight key factors.

What's more, they found that just three of these eight factors account for the majority (85-90%) of the variability between buildings, further speeding up the process of identifying which stock needs immediate attention, and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. For example, they found that in Cambridge, retrofitting just 16% of buildings would eradicate 40% of the city's overall emissions.

Some may be surprised to learn that residents' individual thermostat temperature settings played a minor role in the building selection process, with Franz-Josef Ulm - an MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering - calling the variability of people's temperature preferences "relatively small."

Ulm further explained that their new analysis could allow cities to adopt "very targeted strategies" for reducing the heating and cooling energy used by their inhabitants. As opposed to existing energy-retrofit incentives, which seem to reward anyone regardless of their building's condition, the team's formula could help city authorities to "develop the fastest path to energy efficiency, at a city scale."

The next step for the team could be to compare the outcomes of certain buildings that do not receive the energy retrofits, with those that have been retro-fitted. They will also assess the lifecycle cost analysis to identify to long-term return on investment.

Retrofit Building

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